May 16 – 8:26-40
Here we see Philip called off again, and note how little details God gives Philip about his mission—all he really said was, “Go.” But Philip faithfully obeyed, and headed some 40-50 miles towards Gaza. In Philip’s time, if you were headed south out of Jerusalem, Gaza was the last watering hole before you had to cross the desert to Egypt, and at some stopping point on the road Philip met an Ethiopian eunuch. There Philip overheard the man reading, and if you’re wondering how that’s possible, people commonly read aloud to themselves back then. This was the default method of reading for a long time; for example, in the 4th century AD the folks in Milan were wowed by a bishop named Ambrose because his lips barely moved when he read. So Philip overheard this man reading from the scroll of Isaiah (note: scrolls like this were extremely precious commodities; a Gentile like him possessing a scroll from the Jewish Bible was a rare occurrence), and he happened to be reading from a section that predicted the inevitable death of the Messiah. And then Philip got an underhanded pitch of an opportunity for evangelism: the man asks Philip, “What does this mean?”
The whole story emphasizes just how providential all these details were—Philip caught the Ethiopian man while he was traveling, at one of the few watering holes before the desert (water becomes important in verse 36), while the man is in the middle of reading a passage that clearly points to Jesus. The Holy Spirit was intimately involved in all these circumstances, utilizing Philip as a tool for the salvation of this man and revealing to Philip (and you the reader) God’s sovereign work in drawing people to himself. Thus God gets the glory for all of this, and all Philip did was be faithful to the Great Commission. This is skipping ahead, but notice that, by the end, Philip has done all that Jesus asked in Matthew 28:16-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them… [and] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
And this despite all the barriers that might have existed to Philip sharing the gospel with this Ethiopian man. Operating out of his Jewish roots, Philip would’ve known that eunuchs were considered outsiders to Jews; even Jewish eunuchs couldn’t set foot in the inner court of the temple in Jerusalem (Deut. 23:1). The passage doesn’t clarify the Ethiopian man’s situation—he could’ve been celibate, emasculated, or born with a developmental defect. But Philip went to him anyway. He, a dark skinned man with an accent, would’ve looked different than Philip, a Greek-speaking Middle Eastern man. But Philip went to him anyway. And keep in mind, this was before the church had fully settled that Gentiles could even become Christians (that happens in Acts 10). But clearly God wanted Philip there, so Philip went where he was called, knowing that God will often call us to cross all kinds of perceived social barriers with the transcendent gospel.
Questions for Discussion
• Would someone read Acts 8:26-40 for us?
• What stood out to you in this passage?
• How would you describe the Ethiopian man in this passage?
• How do we see the Holy Spirit at work in this passage?
• What can this story tell us about God’s heart for people?
• How can this story help us understand how to connect with people across perceived barriers like ethnicity or sexuality?
• How do Philip’s actions help us understand what it means to make disciples?